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National Signing Day: Biggest Misses in Notre Dame’s 2018 Class

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The 2018 class of signees is very good, but there are a couple positions where the Irish came up short in their recruiting

NCAA Football: Citrus Bowl-Notre Dame vs Louisiana State Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

With the Class of 2018 all signed up, I figured, as the resident pessimist here at One Foot Down, that I’d quickly discuss the biggest misses, in terms of position groups, in this class.

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at where this class could have done better and where we might see some gaps that turn into issues down the road.

Defensive End (Specifically, Pass Rushers)

I think Justin Ademilola is going to be a very good player for ND, but he’s not the potential instant impact guy like his brother is at DT, and even more so, he’s at a position where it’d be nice to get a few guys who could come in and make a difference on 3rd downs.

The Irish finally had SOME semblance of a pass rush last season after ND fans forgot what a sack looked like in 2016, but even with the emergence of sophomore ends Julian Okwara, Khalid Kareem, and Daelin Hayes, Notre Dame wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire with the pass rush — ND finished tied at 83rd in the country in sacks, 64th in adjusted sack rate, and 98th in passing downs sack rate.

NCAA Football: Southern California at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

So, considering Kareem, Okwara, and Hayes only have two years of eligibility remaining, it would have been nice to bring in some top-flight pass rushing talent that could take over those duties in a couple years.

Luckily, it looks like there’s a lot of front seven talent in the 2019 class that has high interest in Notre Dame, so Clark Lea and his staff should be able to remedy the pass rushing hole in recruiting a little bit. But, that couple-year gap without a glut of really good pass rushing talent could definitely hurt the Irish down the line.

Offensive Line

There’s something to be said for the four guys that Notre Dame managed to sign in this class. John Dirksen, Cole Mabry, and Luke Jones all have great size and with some seasoning all have a chance to be strong contributors down the road. The fact Harry Hiestand wanted these guys makes me feel better about their 3-star ratings, and of course there is the explanation most recruiting analysts are tossing around that this was not a great class in general in terms of elite offensive line talent. Jarrett Patterson is a 4-star guy who the Irish managed to land in the final hour, and that certainly makes the pull at offensive line more palatable, both numbers-wise and in terms of an uptick in talent.

With that all said, it’s pretty disappointing that the program that’s now being referred to as O-line U, that has put a BUNCH of offensive linemen in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft of late (the Martin brothers, Chris Watt, Ronnie Stanley, etc.), and that had two All-Americans playing next to each other this year who will both be drafted in the 1st round in a couple months, can’t manage to bring in any of the elite guys like Nicholas Petit-Frere, etc. Not blaming Jeff Quinn here considering he just got the job two weeks ago, but it’s amazing ND can’t pull in more upper-echelon offensive line recruits considering the success Irish alumni are having in the NFL Draft and in their performances in the NFL.

Like defensive line, 2019 looks to be a class with more talent along the offensive line and more interest in ND from top-flight guys, but if the majority of these four don’t pan out in terms of development (certainly possible considering the unknown of Quinn as o-line coach), there could be serious issues down the line in terms of quality depth and drop-off in talent if starters get hurt.

Running Back

I don’t really blame the staff for this one, but running back became a dire need in late 2017 and early 2018, and the recruiting for this class did not match up with that need.

The Irish had Markese Stepp and Jahmir Smith committed to join a deep stable of backs already on the roster, but then Stepp had academic issues that forced him to go to USC, Josh Adams declared for the NFL Draft, and Deon McIntosh and CJ Holmes got themselves kicked off the team.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Michigan State Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

So now ND is sitting there with Dexter Williams, Tony Jones Jr., and two 3-star true freshmen in Jahmir Smith and C’Bo Flemister, who the Irish were able to flip from Georgia Tech in the final hour.

Just thinking about the depth issues the team had in 2017 at running back, having 3/4 scholarship running backs is downright scary, especially when two of them are true freshmen who might not be very productive this early in their careers. It would have been really nice to bring in someone who is physically ready to carry the load at RB if Williams and TJJ go down.

I’ll Be Optimistic For A Second

Just so we don’t end on a sour note, here’s what I DO love about this class — and spoiler alert, it’s a lot:

  • Phil Jurkovec, stud quarterback, who can still be a star even if he isn’t ready to unseat Wimbush as a true freshman...be patient, people
  • Everything you want in a WR class: You’ve got the Will Fuller-esque deep threat in Braden Lenzy, the big, fast receiver who can do it all in Kevin Austin, and the bigger, reliable target in Micah Jones. Then, today, the group added Lawrence Keys III to provide more speed, shiftiness, and playmaking ability. It’s just a very good group at receiver
  • Tight End: George Takacs and Tommy Tremble are a great combination who complement each other very well. Typical Tight End U pull here to go along with a great 2017 class that included Brock Wright and Cole Kmet
  • Defensive Tackle: Jayson Ademilola might be an instant impact guy in the middle, and Ja’Mion Franklin has the potential to develop into a Louis Nix Lite. Adding those guys to Jerry Tillery, Jonathan Bonner, Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, Kurt Hinish, and Darnell Ewell makes for some actual quality depth at defensive tackle for the first time in a while
  • Linebacker: Fantastic group here — I think Shayne Simon will end up being the best of the bunch, but Jack Lamb and Bo Bauer can both lay the lumber, and Ovie Oghoufo is a fantastic athlete who could very well develop into a fantastic college linebacker
  • Secondary: Really, really great haul at a position where ND doesn’t usually get more than one or two top-notch guys...Derrik Allen is going to be a star from day one at safety, Houston Griffith is an elite corner who could also play safety if needed, and then guys like Joe Wilkins Jr., Tariq Bracy (if he plays defense), Paul Moala, Noah Boykin, and DJ Brown are all very good DBs who could be big-time contributors on Clark Lea’s defense down the road (and maybe even early on)